Posted by on Friday, November 17, 2017

More than twenty years after Haiti’s political actors disbanded Its army, which throughout the country’s history had been responsible mostly for political oppression; the Caribbean nation under the leadership of President Jovenel Moise will soon unveil a reconstituted military.

The new Haitian National Army will be formally reintroduced with a parade in the city of Cap Haitian this upcoming November 18th, the 214 years anniversary of the Vertieres Battle, fought in the city; which cemented Haiti’s independence from France.

Speaking at a news conference last week, President Jovenel Moise said that “ The army I am reinstating for you is a professional one. It is a necessity for our country. It will not be an army of repression,” promised the President who insisted that this new military force “ will be instead an army that will help out when a hurricane strikes our country. It will repair roads. This is the army I have promised you.”

The President wanted to draw a stark contrast from the previous military. Haiti, independent since 1804, did not freely elect a leader until the election of Jean Bertrand Aristide in 1990, who was ousted by a military coup only eight months later. When Aristide came back into power in 1995, one of his first acts in office was to dismantle the military, and he created the civilian Haitian National Police (PNH) to fill the security gap. The PNH is currently 15.000 men strong.

The effective of the new army is not yet know, but Minister of Defense Herve Denis, speaking to reporters Monday, said that there could be 3.000 to 5.000 troops. “But we know that we cannot have an army of that size the next day” because of budget constraints, he added. Haiti’s government has allocated $8.5 million for defense spending in the 2018 fiscal year. 

While the rebirth of the Haitian National Army remains wildly popular among mostly jobless young people who make up a significant portion of the over 50% unemployment rate, since President Jovenel Moise has announced a military parade in the city to relaunched the army, thousands of public high schools students have taken to the streets protesting spending on a military force, when their teachers have stopped working because of months of unpaid wages.

Thousands of students in Cap-Haitian protest revival of army because government cannot even pay teachers

"We don't want an army, we want an education"
was the rallying cry of students who promised to block the country's second largest city in the upcoming days and weeks.

"Haiti clearly has more other pressing issues than the creation of an army." insisted one student who thought that President Jovenel Moise should prioritize education, health, economic  development etc...

International donors who have spent billions of dollars into strengthening the Haitian National Police over the years, are not supportive of this new military force either. 

"Our efforts have focused on supporting a civilian police force that is focused on what Haiti needs, which is law enforcement, " said  the U.S. State Department's special coordinator for Haiti Kenneth Merten, back in April, while emphasizing that Haiti reserves the right to decide what kind of armed forces It wants to have on its territory. Something that Haitian leaders are perfectly aware of.

Yourie Latortue, the current President of the Haitian Senate and a former colonel in the previous military, is one of many lawmakers in favor of reconstituting the Haitian Army.

"Haiti is an independent country and reserves the constitutional and sovereign right to an army" he said in response to international critics. Like President Jovenel Moise,  Latortue firmly believes that a military force is urgently needed to fill the security vacuum left following the departure of the United Nations peacekeeping troops last months, who were stationed in the country for the past 13 years. A new, but smaller United Nations Mission in Haiti (MINUSJUSTH) was approved last month, with the mission to train the national police and help strengthen the rule of law.

Whatever the level of support is however for this new armed force, the worries that it will be politicized and becomes a weapon in the hand of a President or Prime minister like during the old days, remains.

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